If I had to guess, I would say that around 90% of the games I’ve played in the last year have come from indie developers. I think the reason I enjoy them so much is that more often than not, you can feel their love of gaming coming through the screen at every moment. They’ll take a dash of one game, a touch of another, sprinkle in a little passion and then send it out into the world. Demon Skin is a great example of when this recipe is just right, with the brutal hack ’n’ slash action platformer from Ludus Future delivering an exciting debut experience that feels fresh AND familiar.
A dark fantasy adventure awaits you in Demon Skin, as you take control of a nameless mystical warrior, locked in a (seemingly endless) battle with the forces of evil. After attempting to stop the restoration of a vile artefact of power, our hero is left stripped of his power and humanity, twisted into the very thing he swore to destroy, a demon. Now it’s up to you to purge the lands in a hallowed crusade, destroying corruption and reclaiming what was stolen from you. Sure, it’s not the most original narrative ever, but it’s just enough to hook you in and keep you moving forward through the legions of the damned.
Wake up demon boy, we’ve got a village to burn
Demon Skin also presents beautifully, from the animated painting style of cut scenes (think Divinity: Original Sin among others) to the surprisingly detailed character models and backgrounds. For obvious reasons, sometimes indie developers will be forced to use assets that feel ‘store bought’ or generic, but everything in Demon Skin looks and sounds like it belongs in that world, from the lowly shambling zombie to the steam-powered automaton and even the many, many weapons you’ll find along your journey.
Gameplay-wise, Demon Skin is clearly influenced by many popular titles, but it combines those elements in a way that feels very different. Although everything in the game is 3D, it is essentially a 2D side-scrolling action-adventure. While it will have you jumping up and down ledges as you progress, billing it as a platformer is probably a bit too generous – this is no Dead Cells or Hollow Knight. That’s not to say it feels flat though, as you move through the world the environments feel varied, with action and set pieces like giant troll fights and vast dwarven halls in the distance lending depth.
Combat is obviously the biggest focus in Demon Skin, which it approaches in a much more methodical way than I was expecting. In true Dark Souls-like fashion, each engagement can be punishing and you must manage your stamina as you fight or you’ll swiftly be cut down. However, it also borrows (heavily) from For Honor where you and your opponent can adopt three different stances (high, mid or low), with matched stances being automatically blocked. Some enemies have particular armour or defences that prevent damage from some stances, so each enemy must be approached differently and dispatched with a bit more finesse than the hack’n’slash tag might suggest. Defeated foes will drop their weapons, which you can add to your arsenal, along with rare ‘artefact weapons’ that, when found, allow you to perform special magical attacks.
Demon Skin also has some light RPG mechanics running through it, with each minion of darkness you kill giving you experience, allowing you to level up and unlock boosts to your maximum health, stamina or damage output. Keen explorers will also be able to find shards of the crystal that took our hero’s power hidden in the world, which will add to your overall defence when collected, creating a cool looking bone armour. There are also several treasure chests laying in dark nooks and crannies, which often contain essential (and incredibly rare) healing potions. I mentioned the plethora of weapons available before and although you can only carry a maximum of four, cycling them can be beneficial as some can actually negatively impact your defence level when using them (these are best piffed at the oncoming bad guy for maximum efficiency).
While I mostly enjoyed my time with Demon Skin, there were a few things that stood out as a little janky or at least lacking a little polish. Right off the bat, I felt as though the controls needed a little bit more time in the oven. I started Demon Skin using a (fully supported) Xbox One controller and it felt mostly okay until I came up against a quicker enemy. For example, after you dodge roll past your foe, you have to flick the right analogue stick in the opposite direction so that you can face them again and block their attack. It doesn’t sound like much, but if the bad guy is quick enough, they can get a fair few hits into your back in the time it takes to turn around, and in a game this brutal that is a big deal. This is less noticeable when playing with a mouse and keyboard, as your stance and direction is based on where your cursor is, automatically turning your character if it’s closer to the enemy. That being said, I found it much harder to execute the special attack combos using a mouse and keyboard since in the heat of combat I’d accidentally change my stance by moving the cursor a fraction too high.
Get in the damn robot, Shinji!
Punishing games can be very fun (for sadists like me) but only if you feel like the game is respecting your time and effort. This was mostly true for Demon Skin but sometimes my demise felt a little cheap. You make progress by hitting checkpoints along the way, using them to respawn after you die. However, these checkpoints don’t replenish you in any way and the only way to heal is through eating bugs you rarely find on the ground OR even harder to find healing potions (of which you can only carry two at a time). I can already hear you say, “Duh- It’s supposed to be a hard game,” but I often found myself reaching a checkpoint right outside a boss fight with 12 out of 600 hit points, zero ways to heal myself and when I’d inevitably die because the boss breathed in my direction, I’d spawn right outside again in the exact same position, with no option to go back and play more conservatively. At least in Dark Souls, you get to go back to a bonfire and fill up your flasks!? It meant I’d end up just trying to cheese the boss with chip damage rather than have a meaningful fight. Also, sometimes the ‘platforming sections’ were arranged strangely and I wouldn’t make jumps I should have been able to. Again, not a deal-breaker, but definitely something I found a bit frustrating.
The last gripe may be a little petty, but worth mentioning I guess. Everything in the game presents really well, except the voice acting. It’s not awful, only a little cheesy and doesn’t sound as polished as it could be. However, I do think that English is likely a second language for the developers and the voice-over artists, so they should definitely be commended for localising the vocals especially during a global pandemic and on an indie game budget.
Demon Skin is a fantastic little indie game and is clearly a labour of love from the team at Ludus Future. Although it’s somewhat simple and it borrows mechanics liberally from more popular titles, it still stands on its own two legs as a fun and challenging experience. If like me, you go in with no expectations, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you find.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Ludus Future
- Buka Entertainment
- April 13, 2021